Committee Size - Is bigger always better?

4 July 2019

With an increasing focus on Board (or Committee) composition, particularly as it relates to diversity, women and independents, there hasn’t been quite so much talk about committee size, but perhaps there should be. Committees of the not-too-distant past have had large numbers of committee members flanking both sides of their grand conference room tables - a grand committee was the sign of a grand club.

As we all know by now, regularly reviewing your clubs constitution is an essential part of the committees role and ensures that the clubs constitution is up-to-date and fit for purpose.  If your club is regularly struggling to fill committee positions or is having to beg current committee members to hang in there for one or two more years - then you have to question whether your clubs committee composition and size is fit for purpose.

Looking closely at Clubs New Zealand members, committees range in size from 4 through to an impressive 16.  The average committee size for Clubs New Zealand member clubs comes in at 8.5 (not to bad), but when take a closer look we see that some clubs with a total membership of 100 members have committees of 12 - that's 1 committee member per 8.3 members.

What does the research and best practice tell us?

Research shows that smaller boards are generally more active, more collaborative and make decisions faster.  Smaller boards also trend toward having informal meetings and fewer sub-committees than larger boards.

Reports show that having a smaller number of board directors allowed them the time to foster deeper debates without rehashing the same issues repeatedly. The time they saved on vetting and discussing issues allowed them to make informed decisions more expediently.

Of course a smaller board typically results in savings, however, the expectations placed on individual board members may increase with less board members to delegate responsibility too.

While considering committee numbers and composition, current committees need to consider the unique needs of their club. The club’s size, location, strategic needs all factor into determining the smallest number of committee members that the club needs to still perform at its best. Businesses and indeed clubs change over time, and thus, they need to continually evaluate how many committee members they truly need.

It’s worth mentioning that downsizing a large committee can take several years. It’s generally best to let it happen through attrition. As current committee members retire or their terms expire, the committee just doesn’t replace them.

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